But their potential is cut short by their incredibly short lives (like 5? years at the higher end) which seem to be caused by a very bizarre self-destructive behavior after mating (starving themselves, eating their own arms), which in turn is caused by an "optic gland" and removing that gland completely eliminates that self-destructiveness and increases their lifespan.
It makes you wonder if that gland was artificially engineered into them.
The sci-fi nerd in me likes to think there is a cosmic conflict between axial-symmetry species and radial-symmetry species, which may be overall more common in the universe given how life evolves at the microscopic scale, and Earth was chosen to give apes a chance.
There is a comment below by biztos imagining that if octopi lived longer, they would be the apex species that was failing to fight the climate change - in place of humans.
Made me think that maybe they were at one point, and then the octopus civilization itself decided to "solve the problem" by engineering a shorter time-to-live into their species and preventing intelligent behavior :)
it's 1982's "the thing", from the perspective of the, well, thing :)
The original limits were symmetrical. They just haven't yet noticed humans started living long enough to develop into a technological species.
If you eliminate a radial intelligence somewhere they eliminate an axial intelligence somewhere. Roundabout hindering them is clearly allowed.
It may even have been a compensation for the seemingly barren corner of the galaxy we're in.
Like, even for giant octopus? How do they get so large, in such a short amount of time?
Usual adult giant octopuses are similar (in weight) to 3 year old humans, so it's not really surprising they get that big over a 3-5 year lifespan.
Octopus Dreaming - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vKCLJZbytU
Some of the best imagery I've ever seen of chromatophores (and other *phores) in action.
But Wikipedia suggests that there is some controversy around the exact causes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nocturnal_penile_tumescence
It’s hard to imagine what reason a sleeping octopus would have for cycling through colors if not related to their dreams.
Sleep might be required for a certain level of consciousness.
TL;DR during sleep, most critters' brains actively "re-play" waking experiences, and this contributes to learning+memory. I can't find the paper right now, but at a talk in ~2013 some guy presented work in which spatial trajectories run by rats were reconstructed from hippocampal place cell activation sequences during sleep
1. An eager sensory network with no inputs can introduce phantom inputs into the network, which can evolve through feedback loops in networks not being stimulated by real sensory phenomena
2. The brain and body's tendency to actively "simulate" its internal representation of the world, by creating mental scenarios and then playing them out.
When you throw a baseball, your CNS & muscles run simulations which adjust your motor neuron activation profile and the way your muscular cells function based on feedback from the brain about the success of the action.
When you practice a speech, you visualize the place you will be delivering it, visualize the audience and their potential reactions, so that you can plan accordingly. This is another kind of mental simulation.
Dreams might be the same thing, generating sensory feedback loops from brain activity resulting from memory organization and compression during the sleep cycle, simulating a world and then running through the simulation.
This can greatly increase an organism's survival if the organism's entire life revolves around finding food and avoiding predators / catching prey. While they are hidden and safely sleeping, animals are still able to "train" themselves completely unconsciously.
Seeing as how evolutionarily useful it is, I'm not surprised to see it crop up in multiple kinds of brains and would be very surprised if advanced aliens do not dream as well.
The level of consciousness can vary between organisms and dreams. As an active lucid dreamer I frequently enjoy full "consciousness" in my dreams, able to fully make decisions instead of subscribing to my brain's prestructured rules for navigating the simulated construct. I can even often control the parameters of the simulation itself.
Most people however never experience this kind of dream, and are completely slave to the dream. The only thing which imparts their subjective experience is the ability to recall the dream. Memory is definitely a key component to a subjective experience.
I also get pissed off when I recognize something that's logically contradictory or impossible and realize it's a dream - although I miss a lot of obvious tells.
I would use that chance. If you are aware that you are dreaming, you can change the contents of the dream. Google "lucid dream".
Sometimes I have a good grip, I'm deep in REM, and I can do anything I want for a while with no consequence. I am still tending to my brain activity but it's manageable. Other times, the slightest deviation from my preprogrammed behavior is enough to perturb the dream.
I have countless times woken up when pushing myself too far, but it's gotten better. So sometimes I am quite lucid but just have to not think too hard or deviate much from my preprogrammed behavior. Too much effort or going too wild breaks the dream. But very often I choose to fly around, visit places and people, and sometimes interact.
I've even had a few dreams where I've managed to do simple arithmetic and memory recall without waking up. Plenty of dreams where I try to write things down thinking I'll still have it when I wake up.
A recent fascination I've had the last few months is pushing boundaries with my dream characters. Several weeks ago I had a dream where I was having a conversation with someone, and paused to observe that the situation wasn't real. Normally I've found I have to keep this knowledge to myself because the dream will immediately break up, but this time I remarked to the girl that she wasn't real and in fact was a figment of a dream. She looked at me and said that she was and I was acting crazy. She wouldn't believe me.
So since then I've been trying to provoke my dream people by telling them they are not real to see what kind of responses I get.
In a pretty recent dream, I found myself in a huge pasture where a hot air balloon festival was taking place. A girl was sitting on a blanket eating something, so I kicked myself high into the air and glided down to first show her that I could warp the laws of physics, then I whispered in her ear that it was just a dream and she was an apparition. She smiled and said out loud, "I know this is all just a dream," at which point everyone around her just looked at me in affirmation.
I got really nervous but no one seemed to mind, so I managed to spend about half an hour talking to all sorts of people both imaginary and from my real life, having conversations about the nature of existence and dreaming and pondering on how my brain was able to create all of this in realtime. Then someone wearing all black with short cropped hair ran up to me, grabbed my by the shoulders and shook me while fervently repeating something in a language I didn't understand. Their eyes looked wild and pleading and they kept repeating the same thing over and over until they were convinced that I couldn't understand, at which point I was told another word and the figure let go and ran off into the crowd. I wasn't able to find them, but the excitement of the experience and running around got my brain amped up and things began to slowly go white. I asked a few people if they recognized the person but they didn't, and I woke up. The experience was a bit unsettling.
Within a short time, I developed full consciousness in my dreams. I was lucid and I could even reshape my dreams while dreaming, or reenact or resume dreaming from one night to the next. I would recall every detail in full during the day. Dreams did not fade away anymore.
After a few weeks I became exhausted with dreaming, and I started dreading going to bed. Even after halting lucid dreaming practices, to this day I still have very detailed dreams I can remember for days or years. The dream anxiety from going into lucid dreaming caused me insomnia during at least 5 years.
Interesting. I met a long-dead relative once in a dream, and he told me "I'm not really here" and I said "I know" and we enjoyed the moment together.
I've successfully solved basic arithmetic which requires mid-term memory allocation like multiplication and long division. I want to train myself to use a keyboard and type but I have back problems and often can't sleep on my back. I want to figure out a way for people to ask me questions and give me tasks.
My dreams were pretty vivid before but it was only after that when I began to train myself. But I would commonly see people, ghosts, aliens, monsters, etc. creep out of the shadows at night and touch me or just remain beside me while I was drifting off. A couple of months ago I (hopefully) hallucinated that I was visited by a succubus and it was quite tangible and vivid.
Between ages 0-6 it was mostly just maze dreams, where I would be trapped in some twisty, morphing construct like a hospital or apartment building. At the time I assumed it was because I didn't have much life experience and so it was mostly visual and without social interaction, and the labyrinths represented my confusion about my surroundings and my feelings of being lost and powerless. But Inception's aesthetics and the dream mazes gave me goose bumps because of how close to home it hit!
For most of my childhood and teenage years it was overwhelmingly chase dreams. I was always running from some person or organization, and everyone was suspect. Sometimes right in the neighborhood, but often crazy blockbuster set pieces or different time periods. Lots of dreams where people realized I didn't belong and started chasing me like Inception.
Now I have a lot of dreams where I'm back in high school, or in prison, my teeth are all falling out, or a couple of other staples. Lots of reoccurring characters and locations. Last month I had a dream I was back in my elementary school, and because there were so many people I recognized and because the dream lasted uninterrupted for so many hours despite my lucidness and being aware that it wasn't reality, that I truly became convinced I had died or fallen into a coma while sleeping and was now experiencing a prolonged hallucination.
That is, everything is "feedforward" but the outputs sometimes are fed back to the inputs (both literally, and "figuratively" though physical means - ie, motor outputs move arms which the eyes see and turn back into sensory stimuli, etc)...
...I'm not naive enough to think that is an original thought, though.
In other words I don't think we discretely process each sensory input on its own before propagating the result, but instead we process things in tandem, sharing intermediate information and then eventually reconstruct it all as one experience.
For example, just in a temporal sense your body receives and processes tons of sensory input coming in at various times but it "feels" like it happens all at once. When I slap your leg, you feel the impulse, see the action, and hear the impact all at once despite the wildly varying times it takes for these inputs to reach and be processed by your brain. But your brain doesn't just wait to "see" the slap until you actually feel it. Instead, your brain "error corrects" the past with new information.
It's incorrect to view your consciousness as a singular state at any given time; rather, your experience exists in a fuzzy temporal location with no well-defined boundaries. It's hard to grok but here is another example:
If you move your eyes quickly to another location , your brain "fakes" what you see, before replacing that information with real information. For this reason, if you sometimes look at a wall clock with a ticking (not continuous) second hand at just the right moment, the second hand seems to hover for a slight while longer before continuing its path around the clock.
So I think your brain samples and holds previous sensory information for reuse. It could recall memories to help with this, but a much faster and reliable method for experiences like a saccade or a multi-sensory event would likely be to retain recent sensory phenomena in order to reuse it in the sensory pipeline. This network simultaneously enables internal simulation and thus dreaming. That is just personal theory and I would like to test it, but theoretically it makes sense to me.
I'll take it even further. There are delays in propagation (duh). Because of this, the loops of neurons are resonant with certain frequencies of firing rates.
Perhaps my favorite neural loop is the one that exits our skull and then reenters through the acoustic medium. If you put your speech into a microphone, through a delay line, then back into your ears it completely kills your ability to talk.
A brain is a mechanical system resonant with abstract concepts.
Do you hypothesize a distributed, or centrallized control mechanism for this behavior? Like a direct consequence of each neuron's encoding, or is it parameterized in a way which can be changed on-the-fly via a control circuit? Maybe both?
The most recent common ancestor between humans and octopuses was hundreds of millions of years ago. That ancestor wasn't dumb the way a frog is dumb, it was dumb the way a clam is dumb. It quite literally did not have a brain.
So yes, it's weird that both octopuses and the other branch of intelligent life both dream. That's interesting, and it tells us something about intelligence. If both birds and bats, who developed flight independently, both had sonar and bad vision, that would be interesting, and would tell us something about flight.
The more you can learn from that near-death experience without having another one, the less likely you are to become something's lunch.
Cephalopod intelligence is a thing. I have often wondered if only intelligence/sentience is connected to dreaming. octopi dream..cats dream, but do insects dream?
In a nutshell:
1) Octopuses have a "vertical lobe", which is very similar in function and organization to our hippocampus.
2) Mammalian hippocampuses have the ability for something known as "longterm potentiation" (LTP), which is believed to play a crucial part in memory and learning. Experiments found a similar longterm potentiation mechanism in the vertical lobe of octopuses.
Quoting the article: "The discovery of LTP in octopuses provides evidence for convergent evolution that has led to the selection of similar synaptic activity. Though not yet agreed upon in the scientific community, the existence of LTP in both mammals and octopuses strengthens the concept of LTP as a cellular basis for learning and memory and may be a general mechanism for associative learning".
As did the first book, in a different way.
Just the thought of something like this whose body is ~4 feet long (let alone the legs, too) is enough to descend into horror territory for me.
I think they just don’t have the opportunity to produce culture. Maybe they could be taught but it seems like generational learning would be extremely unlikely.
Edit: their situation has always struck me as very poetic and sad. If they are conscious their existence seems so lonely. But maybe that’s just my mammalian bias!
 - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21086642
* I mean,
assuming normal intelligence. Well, we think men
of the upper Paleolithic were as intelligent as
we are. They just didn't know as much.
John's man would have learned as the race
learned. In fact, if he had an inquiring mind,
his knowledge might be...astonishing.*
Octopodes may very well suffer from this, they may be very intelligent but just don't have the means to gain sufficient knowledge. If you think about it, take the average human, and private him from all of our current body of knowledge, and it will have a hard time achieving anything in earth's environment.
The first is about the (accidental) future uplift of spiders via genetic engineering and evolution, the sequel about octopuses. The author does an excellent job of imagining how this might come to pass.
It takes almost 20 years for a modern human to become a productive member of society. In 3 years, we are barely able to communicate properly. Octopuses simply don't have time to learn and instead must rely on innate skills.
The expectation of attending school for most of those years tends to greatly hinder the speed at which one can become a productive member of society though. Three years is certainly pushing it, but those in early adolescence have proven that they can be productive members of society, even modern society, if they focus on the right things.
We allow people to delay becoming productive members of society well beyond the time they technically could be productive because:
1. Thanks to modern technology, we now can allow it. Go back into earlier human history and not being productive in early adolescence means you would not survive. That is no longer an issue we need to worry about.
2. Since the above is no longer an issue, we are able to see the human experience as being about more than just being productive. We want to give time to explore the world in ways that is not directly useful, but enlightening nonetheless.
Very short lifespans. A tragedy, when you think about it...
"For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons."
You could apply the same idea to octopuses.
If the octopus possessed sufficient intelligence, something along the lines of an octopus city would presumably be in the cards. Or if they do possess such intelligence, the question again is why not form civilizations (which would presumably boost survival and fertility rates)?
I disagree with this. Intelligence will only further survival and reproduction if it helps whatever selective pressures the population is under. Livestock are a good example, they were selected to be less intelligent. You're wrongly assuming that the goals of natural selection align with human goals. The only goal of natural selection is gene propagation. In this endeavor, chickens are much more successful. They outnumber humans, humans supply them with food, humans protect them from natural predators. Who are we to say "the only measure of success is a human-like civilization"?
The implication is that if octopuses could make technology, pass on culture etc, they would.
The most correct statement would be intelligence, if possessed && if it makes the specimen more selective, will be put to use to further survival and reproduction. Countless animals don't rely on intelligence for gene propagation, and wouldn't achieve higher reproductive rates from higher intelligence. Big brains are resource intensive, birds and ants are doing just fine at the natural selection game without high intelligence, technology, culture, or civilization.
Also true of countless humans
I highly recommend "Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness" for a fascinating look at octopus evolution and comparison to ourselves.
- They only typically live 4 years and the act of reproducing kills them
- They live in coastal ocean biomes, which have high selective pressures
In order for intelligence to flourish, a form of communication is needed and the method to transfer knowledge from one generation to the next. An octopus is a solitary organism, unlike mammals which are tribal. It does not live long enough to develop social skills or to transfer knowledge to their offspring, so there isn't any accumulation of information for their species to build cities or technologies. Each individual is forced to self educate and re learn survival.
Your criteria for intelligence is more criteria for safe habitat than intelligence. Just because they don't live long enough to learn language or write books doesn't mean they are not intelligent.
Perhaps octopodes are making the same choice?
The evolution of human intelligence is still a delightfully big, open question in science, but the current thinking is converging on it being, well, as Bob Ross might have put it, a "happy little accident". Researchers have been able to track the development of the human brain through the varying sizes of a hole in fossilized hominid skulls . Brains are massive caloric sinks and require a lot of food, rich in animal fats, to be able to develop.  Meanwhile, just a short time ago in evolutionary terms, humans accidentally developed the ability to digest milk into adulthood , and we got overall bigger, stronger, and healthier -- but our hungry brains also got a new source of nutrients.
The jury is still out on exactly what evolutionary advantage our brains confer, if any . So, it is possible that human-level intelligence is not an evolutionary advantage at all. There are after all numerous species at the top of their respective food chains, evolving much more slowly, that could be considered successful in evolutionary terms. And, given the caloric requirements of large brains and the unclear advantages that they produce, they could maybe be viewed as a disadvantage.
If we were to view brains as, well, a kind of tumor of sorts, that will simply grow and develop depending on caloric availability, then perhaps humans developed agriculture because our brains were hungry and civilization because our brains got bored, and all of this was only possible because we accidentally developed the ability to digest lactose as adults, and none of it is a necessary consequence of evolution at all.
This btw is one of the major components to my favorite answer for the Fermi Paradox.
: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/sorry... (I don't love the headline on this article, but the content is okay.)
Hows that working out for us, with us poisoning the world and global warming coming?
That said, we have discovered some areas where they gather, so it really comes down to us not knowing nearly enough. Much of life in the oceans remains a mystery.
The marine biologist at a aquarium told us (semi-jokingly) that this is the reason they haven't taken over the world yet.
They just leave their children to their own and don't teach them anything at all. So every octopus born has to relearn everything and once done, they die.
I'm not sure, but I think that the author is arguing that we can't say for sure whether any other creatures are conscious. There are the mirror experiments, but ultimately, we know that humans are (in general) conscious because we (personally) are conscious.
This is the most interesting part. I read that an octopus's brain can give their arms high-level commands, and the arms can execute some commands by themselves.
I think your second sentence is not well formulated because if one does not follow you line of thought it does not make sense (X does not do Y because it obviously does not do Y). It's probalbly a risky subject, it might be that you just want to avoid too intense internet-arguments with that phrasing.
These kinds of conversations inevitably involve either special pleading or completely distorted definitions of words like "respect" that we would not accept in any other context.
>I think your second sentence is not well formulated because if one does not follow you line of thought it does not make sense [...]
I honestly have no idea what you're trying to communicate here. Do you want to try again?
And I think this is a bit condescending. You're essentially denying me to have a different opinion because it's just invalid in your point of view. To give you perspective: I am not a hunter, I am a vegetarian and have been very active in environmental protection. I am certainly not advocating for myself or feel the need to defend my actions by special pleading or completely distorted definitions. But I see that hunters fullfill an important role because we don't really have much wild nature here in germany anymore and for most parts it's not possible because there's not enough space and the developed nature is not robust enough. Enviromentalist organisations here often work quite closely with hunters. And I also see that hunters exist that respect and appreciate nature (not because they want to hunt), which you seem to deny.
> I honestly have no idea what you're trying to communicate here. Do you want to try again?
"But that doesn't mean they appreciate nature and it certainly doesn't mean they respect individuals, which they obviously do not." Does not make sense to me because "certainly doesn't mean they respect individuals, which they obviously do not." does not. You say "X does not do Y because it obviously does not do Y." where X is the hunter and Y is respecting individuals. You treat it as given but for me it's not. What I wanted to say is that your sentence only makes sense when one shares your line of thought (it's obvious then), but when one does not then it's a not an argument (it is so because it is so). You treat it as a fact. In spirit it's similiar to my reply above.
Pretending that there is some sort of subjectivity to this discussion is disingenuous and intellectually dishonest. You keep trying to shift this back to opinions and points of view, which I find is a common tactic when discussing animals, but we're not talking about anything subjective.
Well, I think this answer is even more condescending. A discussion from here is not possible since you entirely deny every other opinion on the topic and assert yourself the objective truth. You ignore the various aspects of the problem, for example professional hunters. A quick search reveals philosophers discussion the question and coming to different or complex answers that depend on various factors (most importantly: why does the hunter hunt?), so I can't be the only one not buying into your line of thought. I originally was honestly interested in you opinion, but it seems there's no depth to it. You can't even defend it, you're just reinforcing that you're right.
EDIT: since there's another answer in a similiar spirit there's at least one other opinion that rejects or doubts your statement.
EDIT2: An interesting example to reinforce my arguments is that the statement "women, who have abortions, don't respect human live, because they obviously do not" is seen as trivial by some but rejected by others. These things do not live in a mathmatical world where axioms are stated, agreed and theorems derived using proofs and pure logic. So one talking about those topics can never assert the obvious truth to his statements. There are no right or wrongs in philosophy and ethics (in a mathmatical sense), just statements the people agree on.
If you want to express a difference in opinion, do so. You keep repeating that you don't like my statements and there are other opinions, but you have not yet been able to articulate what that different opinion is and how it applies to the conversation.
Unless you have zero capacity for empathy, it is impossible to not have a massive respect for life when you take direct responsibility for death. Every aspect of our mass produced lives causes death. Unless you are 100% off grid, everything you consume from the vegetables and meat you eat to the clothes on your back are the products of death. Hunting forces you to take direct responsibility.
Correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think this aspect was what you took offence to, but it was the idea of enjoyment. I was raised as deer hunter and cried after my first kill. I challenge you to ask any lifelong deer hunter what they enjoy about hunting. Sure, they enjoy finding a big one but none of them find enjoyment in seeing an animal suffer or in the act of killing alone. They become better marksmen so they can kill as quickly and painlessly as possible and they eat what they kill. They enjoy the craft of marksmanship, tracking animals, and land management. They enjoy being alone in the woods all day doing nothing but watching and listening to wildlife. And they enjoy having visceral connection to nature, our past, and what we consume.
I'm not asking you to agree with any of this. I only ask you to try to see that there are other perspectives outside of your bubble and to not flippantly dismiss discussion about them as 'disingenuous and intellectually dishonest.'
I'll ask you the same thing I've been asking the other commenter. What is your definition of respect that includes the unnecessary killing for sport and will you apply that same definition to humans? I haven't made any arguments about sociopathy, which is a straw man. You went down a long rabbit hole about what hunters enjoy about hunting. None of that is new information to me and none of it is relevant to my point. I'm simply pointing out that any definition of respect that I've come across would not include the unnecessary killing of someone. Whether you enjoy the act of killing and whether you enjoy other aspects of hunting make no difference to the 3 relevant premises:
1. Hunting for sport is unnecessary.
2. Respect for an individual requires not killing them unnecessarily.
Tell me which one of those statements you disagree with. And again, if it's the latter, you can't apply that specifically to prey animals without that being fallacious. We're all completely talking past each other; neither of you have pointed out any issues or disagreement with my reasoning, just that you don't like the outcome as expressed.
Which is why the idea of using something like Crispr to mess with genes is fraught with so many unknown issues and risk.
Also doesn’t guarantee that I won’t generate unintended consequences
Point being - you don’t have to be capable of making the whole to make modifications. (But in any complex system, there are likely to be unintended consequences)
A good example would be immune modulation for cancer therapy - ipilimumab and it’s ilk are miracle workers for many, however because of the complexity of the immune system in a proportion of patients there is a cascade of multi organ failure kicked off by the treatment
Take for example smoking. It's absolutely disgusting how they just throw their cigarette butts on the ground when they're done with them. So, not only is it a harmful activity to engage in for the individual at hand, it also harms people nearby, as well as the environment as the trash they leave behind is not biodegradable. No idea what can be done about this.
Whoops, sorry, crimethink!
From this perspective, I would at the very least become far more careful about judging animals too quickly. Just because we cannot read them and interpret their emotions doesn't mean they don't feel love, comfort, fear, amusement or terror.
How long did it take for us to understand that lobsters feel excruciating pain when boiled alive? It took microbiology to figure that out... whoopsy, what are those pain hormones doing here?
Just think of, how much temporary conditions shape how we see people.
(And yet more horrifying, there are cases of comatose people coming to temporarily, being just like themselves, only to never wake up again.)
What makes us so confident that plants don't also meet this criteria? Can lab grown algae burgers feel love? How would we know?
I'm not trying to argue that we should stop eating everything. But I'm not sure how we'd draw a line between some/all animals and other things that are even harder to read. I'm genuinely curious where we'd draw a line.
Brains or other possible organs for processing information are metabolically expensive to operate and entropically expensive to maintain the genetics required to build them. If there is no evolutionary advantage for plants to have sensations and emotions, they will not evolve the machinery required to have them.
When it comes to issues of consciousness, I'm loathe to make any strong claims, since I don't think that phenomenal consciousness is amenable to scientific inquiry due to its innately subjective nature. E.g., for all I know, it might feel like something to be a rock. Though I doubt it.
Likewise for plants, I would hypothesize that feeling things consciously requires complex information processing. E.g., such as is done in the brains of many animals.
Plants certainly process information to some degree, but the degree to which they do so would seem to pale compared to the amount of information processing performed by even the simplest animals that have brains.
Bond by sacrifice .. who would have known.
Octupuses also have a very short lifespan which seems apt: you don't need societies, buildings, relationships etc if you have truly mastered the sole purpose of your existence really well - the nature of procreation and empowering the next generation to survive.
Human beings are actually awful at this it: makes me wonder if all social, cultural aspects are truly "too complicated" ways to achieve what octupuses have mastered through a much simpler process and potentially without needing arbitrary things like consciousness.
This has resulted in climate change and ecological destruction.
A future earth with the highest carrying capacity for life might look like the entire globe as rich in life as the Amazon rain forest, with humans benefiting from the enormous diversity. Our ecological niche would be in the microbiome, where the human species eliminates diseases, causes maximally high survival rates in other species, and uses this surplus for our energy supply, along with genetic engineering species to suit our needs.
FWIW, I think many are concerned about conservation already, which I think is the key to our long-term survival as a species.
But the truth is, we don’t know, and the sense we get of its conscious mind says more about us than about the octopus. The experts who study octopuses risk becoming the least reliable observers on this point, because they are the ones most likely to be entranced by these wonderful creatures.
Conciousness debates are so fundamental yet so moot: One can only attribute conciousness based on observing behavior. There really isn't a good "line on the sand" to distinguish who/what is conscious and who isn't for anything from humans to octopuses to microwaves to computer programs.
You are talking about "phenomenal consciousness", which is sometimes also referred to as "the hard problem of consciousness". (Though not all philosophers would equate these two terms.) There are quite a few other useful definitions of consciousness, and consequently, all of the different notions of consciousness should not all be lumped together.
I actually have a Philosophy degree from MIT, and I spent almost all my philosophical time worrying about and studying this issue. It still keeps me up at night sometimes to this day.
I agree with you that the hard problem of consciousness is not amenable to scientific study, and consequently, I don't think that we can ever understand it, unfortunately.
I also agree that it is the deepest and most important question about the nature of reality that we could ever have, and it is quite frustrating that we will never know the answer.
Back to other notions of consciousness, though: Many of them are interesting, and I think amenable to scientific inquiry. So we shouldn't let the hard problem of consciousness deter us from studying easier problems of consciousness.
What if we assume a brain simulator with good debugging tools?
Yes, that is exactly right. Science is all about that which can be studied objectively and the "hard problem of consciousness" is specifically about the component of consciousness that is purely subjective.
How can you study something that is purely subjective using objective methods?
A. You can't!
Here's another question that science can't answer:
The Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and the Bohm interpretation of quantum mechanics posit vastly different things about the nature of reality. Unfortunately, they are experimentally indistinguishable from each other.
So, if somehow we could narrow QM down to either MW or Bohm, at this point we are stuck. We can never know which interpretation is the right one, even though the answer to this question is up there in importance with the hard problem of consciousness!
Behaviorists were operating under the misconception that something can't be both subjective and objective at the same time. It took Cognitive Psychology to rescue us from this sorry state of affairs. But for years, those who wanted to do Cognitive Psychology academically were blocked from publishing and getting tenure, etc., by the entrenched Behaviorist establishment.
These days we know that via using FMRI, for instance, psychologists and neuroscientists can often determine objectively more about some of your own thoughts than you yourself might know. Or they can sometimes know what you will come to decide before you believe yourself to have decided. Etc.
But certain mental states (i.e., phenomenal ones) seem to have an inherently subjective component that cannot be studied objectively at all. Or at least that's what someone who believes in the "hard problem of consciousness" will say. Others will say, "Pshaw!"
(P.S.: Assuming that a "God's view" of the problem has to exist?)
I'm suspecting that physics might end up in a similar situation than mathematics, where we find out that we can't objectively prove everything - and either we'll have an epistemological breakthrough allowing us to deal with subjectivity in a framework that has still some resemblance to a scientific method, or... we won't.
(Personally, I'm hopeful that the Hard Problem can be "dissolved" - and this "philosophical zombie" concept just seems to me to be misguided, just like the concept of aether was.)
I skimmed the article very quickly. It doesn't even mention the Bohm interpretation. It has long been considered that the Bohm interpretation and MWI are experimentally indistinguishable. Since the article doesn't specifically mention this issue, I'm not sure that it's worth the slog (if all you care about is the philosophical worry that we can never distinguish whether we're in an MWI world vs a Bohm world.)
As for MWI/Bohm being distinguishable from other interpretations, it is certainly the case that this is true. Though actually doing so in practice would be extremely difficult. My guess is that this article is really on how me might approach trying to narrow the field down to MWI/Bohm, or exclude them, as the evidence may ultimately show.
The QM analogy does not hold because it is about things that are not observable. All information in a hypothetical simulated brain is observable.
It's impossible to objectively study what it feels like to be another being. One of the canonical examples from the philosophy literature is on what it feels like to be a bat.
We can't ever observe what it feels like to be a bat because the only way to know for sure what it feels like to be a bat is to actually BE a bat. But you can't be a bat. Consequently, you cannot know for sure what it feels like to be a bat.
Another example from the philosophy literature is the "inverted spectrum hypothesis". Let's say that we make a robot duplicate of you. The robot duplicate of you behaves exactly as you would in all situations. Now let's say that we show the robot a ripe tomato. When you look at this ripe tomato, you will experience a feeling of redness. But for all we know, the robot duplicate of you might feel blueness instead. I.e., it might feel what you feel when you look at the sky on a beautiful summer day.
There's no way for us to know the answer to this question.
There are also philosophers who argue that a robot duplicate of you would feel nothing at all. E.g., no redness, no blueness. If you want to know more about why someone would believe this, look up Searle's Chinese Room argument.
Philosophers who take this point of view believe that any robot will be a "zombie". I.e., it will have all the other sorts of consciousness that we might talk about, but it wouldn't have phenomenal consciousness.
This is also sometimes referred to as the "absent spectrum hypothesis".
Batness could similarly be simulated and then made available to a human brain as read-only stream, perhaps as a dream-like experience.
This is entirely speculative, handwavy and would take fantastic levels of technology, but it does not seem information-theoretically impossible unless you assume that there is something immaterial, at which point things just turn into religion.
Thus it is within the realm of scientific study, albeit it requiring currently hypothetical instruments. But so does the study of quantum mechanics in strongly curved spacetime.
> If you want to know more about why someone would believe this lookup Searle's Chinese Room argument.
I am familiar with it and agree with the position that the (turing-complete) chinese room is simply a way to describe an AGI which speaks chinese and the operator of the room is the computational substrate of the AI and thus a red herring. It's really just an anachronistic analogy.
We are not going to settle this issue here. I suggest that we come back in a millennium and see if any progress has been made. I don't have high hopes.
You might have a point if philosophers had been arguing for decades and written huge tomes on whether or not there is an invisible pink unicorn. But they haven't.
The academic philosophy community isn't made up of dimwits. You don't do anyone a service by implying that they are.
To me qualia, subjective experience, p-zombies and so on either appear to be arguments from insufficient information or require non-material (read: supernatural) phenomena. The former would crumble under sufficiently advanced study, the latter are invisible pink unicorns with people arguing over the exact spectral distribution of pink.
(2) As I mentioned previously, we are not going to settle this debate here anyway. There's a huge amount of literature on the issue. And even just "getting" what the issues are often requires attending a Philosophy of Mind class for weeks or months and doing lots of reading and discussing and philosophizing with an open mind.
(3) If your mind is less closed than it seems, and you don't have access to a good Philosophy of Mind class, you might read this book by David Chalmers:
I'm guessing it'll be kind of a slog, though. And I don't agree with much of what he says, but it's a start at least. He's also the most famous proponent of "the hard problem" (or at least he was when I was actively studying Philosophy of Mind). He's also the person who coined the term "hard problem of consciousness".
Or you could start with the Wikipedia page, but I doubt that anyone would be convinced by it:
I am also dismissive because I don't see a succinct motivating example, paradox etc.
A similarly speculative, philosophical field is the simulation hypothesis. At first glance it's metaphysical, untestable and indistinguishable from base reality and thus not very informative. But then people throw up questions how simulation fidelity might show up in high energy physics or what it would mean if the simulation had bugs/were hackable. It's still far out there but at least there is a direct aim to get away from metaphysics, instead finding ways to subject it to scientific inquiry. This drive is what I am missing in your replies. Claiming that something is categorically unknowable and yet an important field of study is inconsistent.
The famous cosmologist Max Tegmark has written an entire book (and published several papers) arguing that there is no difference between mathematical existence and physical existence and therefore all worlds that can be described mathematically and consistently are just as "real" as our world. Consequently, physical existence of a world is due to nothing more than that such a world can be described mathematically.
According to Tegmark, our world is just pure math with no extra secret sauce to make it "real" and physical. And so, of course, according to Tegmark, there are an infinite number of other worlds described by math that also exist physically. And they exist physically for no other reason than that they exist mathematically.
Do you agree with Tegmark?
And if you don't, why isn't it the case that you are postulating invisible pink unicorns to explain the difference between mathematical existence and physical existence?
(Note: I'm not aware of this approach to arguing for the hard problem to be present in the literature. This argument is my own.)
If I were writing a formal proof, you would know it. I have expressed my beliefs and explained as best I can the reasons for them with the extremely limited time that I had available to me.
As for "You are wrong", I softened that with the acknowledgement that you have plenty of company amongst philosophers, and that the subject has been a topic of vigorous debate for decades, and that reasonable people differ on this issue and that we weren't going to be able to resolve such a fraught issue in this limited forum.
You want more tip-toeing than that in a debate? Really? My Philosophy professors would just say directly to you in the middle of a class in front of everyone else, things like, "You are suffering from a profound misconception." This was just a challenge to you to either step up your argument or to ask them for more explication. They would not, however, mock you, or impute that you or half of all the Philosophers who study the topic are so ignorant that they are making an invisible unicorn argument.
As for attending classes for weeks to understand the issue: I have a Philosophy degree from MIT. I spent most of my actual work on Philosophy studying THIS particular issue. It took ME weeks in my first Philosophy of Mind class, when we got to this very topic to ultimately understand the issues involved. I wasn't slower than anyone else in the class either. In fact I'm a natural at Philosophy. I.e., I got an A on every single Philosophy paper I ever wrote. (And MIT does not have grade inflation.) As with most difficult philosophical issues, true understanding really only sets in when setting out to write a paper on the topic.
What's also somewhat unique about this particular philosophical divide is that no matter how much motivating either side does, many philosophers (e.g., even famous professional ones) cannot see the opposing viewpoint at all. No matter what is said, there is a certain contingent on both sides that basically just pounds their fists on the table in frustration that the other side won't even acknowledge that their side might have a valid point.
So what exactly am I supposed to tell you other than that I don't have the time to explain why I don't have the time to explain? (That's an inside joke from the video game Destiny, btw.)
If your point is that I wasted thousands of hours of my life studying this topic, point taken. As Wittgenstein claimed, studying Philosophy is more of a disease than anything else, since with most topics that it deals with, you can argue about the topic for hundreds of years without making much progress. But it's a disease that typically only afflicts people who are passionate and smart and who would like to understand something better, even if such understanding may be ultimately illusive.
> I am also dismissive because I don't see a succinct motivating example, paradox etc.
What makes you think that everything that's of interest can be motivated with a succinct example? Lisp is clearly the best programming language humans have ever devised and yet most programmers just dismiss it as having too many parentheses. If you can't convince people to use the best programming language no matter how much you explain the issues, why should you be able to convince a skeptic about a complex philosophical issue that is moot with respect to any practical concerns.
Though most people immediately do see why there might be a philosophical worry when you mention a robot duplicate of them, and how maybe it might feel different if you had a silicon brain rather than a meat brain. Or that it might not feel like anything at all. Most people just immediately get that there's a worry here. That's about as close as one can come to succinct motivating example. Also, most everyone who ever goes into Philosophy of Mind came up with the inverted spectrum hypothesis on their own when they were ten years old. If that doesn't describe you, then Philosophy of Mind will likely never be your cup of tea. (How can it be that they come up with this at a young age and then end up pounding the table later in life? Well, I'm not sure. I suppose that they've had an epiphany in the meantime, or they dismiss their ten-year-old philosophizing as childish musings.)
> Claiming that something is categorically unknowable and yet an important field of study is inconsistent.
You are suffering from a profound misconception. For instance, it is categorically unknowable in the general case what the morally right thing to do is. And yet ethics is still a field of the utmost importance. E.g., you can, after a whole lot of rumination and debate come up with, for instance, strategies that you might have good reason to believe will increase your likelihood of doing the morally right thing. Fingers crossed.
Also, if QM turns out to be consistent with the Many Worlds interpretation, it is categorically unknowable whether or not it is really the Bohm interpretation that is correct. On the other hand, you may come up with philosophical reasons to believe that one interpretation is more likely to be true than the other. And which is more likely might help you with other important philosophical issues.
Ultimately, this forum is just not the right place to have the sort of discussion that you seem to want to have because discussing the various arguments can be very involved and intricate. This forum is not the right place for such discussions and I don't have the free time right now anyway.
If you actually are interested, rather than just wanting to throw stones, we could move the discussion to Reddit or another forum, and I could provide better motivation for my beliefs on this issue when I have the time and inclination to do so properly.
I actually have my own novel argument on this topic. But it first relies on having some knowledge of Max Tegmark's argument that there's no difference between mathematical existence and physical existence and therefore all worlds that can be described mathematically and consistently are just as real as our world. I.e., our world is just pure math with no extra secret sauce to make it real. (Max Tegmark is a famous cosmologist, in case you don't already know.)
Uh, oh! You're doomed now. You're going to have to waste thousands of hours of your life studying Philosophy!
It's never too late!
> but I wonder why I haven't stumbled on any philosophical literature about it before ?
Well, you'd usually only be exposed to it via a Philosophy of Mind class or in journals for professional philosophers.
My position on this is that there are natural phenomena which cannot be fully described mathematically. There's nothing supernatural about such things. They are just physical things, like all other physical things, but which defy mathematical analysis.
If you don't believe what I just said, then it seems that you are forced to believe Max Tegmark's theory that there is nothing to physical existence other than mathematical existence. Is that really a theory that you buy into.
It's certainly an interesting theory, but I'd be willing to wager that most scientists would not be willing to sign on.
Well, if you want to dive right in, you could read this book by David Chalmers, who is (or at least was when I actively studied such things) the most famous philosopher who has grappled with the "hard problem" of consciousness:
There are a bunch of books and published papers on the topic, of course. But most of them, including the book listed above, would be a slog if you're not taking a philosophy class on the subject. Even then, they'd likely be a slog. Philosophy arguments on this topic can quickly become extremely intricate, and laden with jargon.
I've written a number of papers on the topic myself for classes, but don't recall if any of them are accessible to someone with no prior knowledge of the debate. There might be a decent one that I wrote for Douglas Hofstadter when he was a visiting professor at MIT. I can check and send you a copy if it seems like it might be approachable.
As for a correlation between consciousness and quantum mechanics, that's not really something I buy into. The famous physicist Roger Penrose, however, wrote a couple of books arguing that computers can never be intelligent because the human brain does special quantum mechanics stuff. If you ask me, his ideas about this are a bunch of claptrap. But in case you are interested, here is one of them:
The only interpretations that really make sense to me are objective collapse theories and the Many Worlds interpretation. For neither of these interpretations does human consciousness cause wave function collapse.
If you want to know more about the various interpretations of QM, there's a Wikipedia page on them here:
If you'd like to know even more, here's a good book on the topic:
Philosophers generally take solipsism seriously. They just do something called "bracketing" regarding solipsism. "Bracketing" is a philosopher's way of saying, "Yes, this is a serious issue, but we can't make any progress unless we ignore the problem, so that's what we're going to do. But we'll be sure to keep it in the back of our heads as a possibility, lest it come back and bite us."
I.e., virtually every philosophical argument starts with an implicit, "For the sake of argument let's assume that solipsism isn't true." There are also probably dozens of other such worries that are typically bracketed.
Mathematicians often do something similar. There are certain mathematical conjectures (usually involving infinities in my experience) which we can prove can neither be proved nor disproved. So mathematicians will just assume some such conjectures for the sake of making progress. One example of this would be the axiom of choice.
Philosophical consciousness suffers from too many issues for day to day discussion, some previous arguments I made in this direction before: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20501688
(I'm more than 99% sure that octopuses experience the world, but I think this test can be generalised to simpler life forms in principle.)
I used to believe that too, but it turns out that consciousness can interact with consciousness.
E.g. find someone you love and trust, sit facing each other, hold hands, stare into each other's eyes, and breath in synchrony. For some cases nothing really happens in other cases... shared subjective experience.
> The domain of scientific knowledge is completely cut off from subjective experience.
Shared subjective experience is still subjective.
For example, that there is no way for you to know that everyone you have ever known is conscious.
The answer seems to lie in qualia. But by definition that is something that one cannot authentically communicate. And the notion of qualia itself is increasingly convergent with DNN latent space. Is the redness of red or the warmth of sunlight just a vector in n-dimensional latent space somewhere in our brain computers?
Maybe we're not really conscious.
IMO emotional capacitance is one of the leading contributors to the kind of consciousness that we feel, but is not a prerequisite for consciousness in general. It just depends on what you consider consciousness.
Some people think that all orchestrated matter has a proportional level of "consciousness" related to its thermodynamic complexity arising from quantum phenomena, but without the ability to "feel" (emotional circuitry) and "think" (logical circuitry) you're hard pressed to tell me a rock is alive in any sense of the word. But an octopus? C'mon, they're contenders for #2 intelligence on the planet. If anyone has subjective experience, it's them.
That sounds like a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" line of reasoning though...
I'd inverse the usual advice about not anthropomorphizing and ask "why not anthropomorphize"? Most creatures, especially the more advanced ones, are pretty close to us. Some, we literally descended from not very long ago, evolution-wise.
They might not have abstract concepts and higher reasoning, but they could very well have "subjective awareness"...
>Conciousness debates are so fundamental yet so moot: One can only attribute conciousness based on observing behavior.
Well, that's for now. If we find the exact mechanism and complexity threshold required for consciousness (e.g. by experiment with simulations and artificial brains and brain modeling), we might be able to test and measure for it directly (e.g. with brain activity scanning).
This is very much not true of octopuses, who diverged from us somewhere just after the development of bilateralism.
It would be easy to be flippant about this suggestion and reply something like "Because we're doing science, not making Disney cartoons?" But the issue is not so black and white. I once saw a lecture by Daniel Kahneman (Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow) where he described why he talks about "System 1" and "System 2" as if they were real things (when of course there is no part of the brain you could point to and label as either) and his argument was that he was intentionally making use of a feature of the human mind which allows it to think quickly and reliably about "agents," (to use his exact word.) In other words, he is intentionally anthropomorphizing abstract systems to make it easier to attribute certain characteristics to it.
There's some evidence this works in multiple contexts. First, we have the Wason selection task where performance improves remarkably when a problem is translated from an abstract logic question to a question about checking IDs at a bar. Humans are good at thinking about rule enforcement in a social context, and terrible about thinking about abstract logic. Second, we have various mnemonic techniques which associate the things to be memorized (cards, digits of pi, whatever) with people (often celebrities) and then encode information (say, a hundred people each representing two digits) by telling stories about the people. "Einstein and Mr. Rogers baked pies for Lady Gaga" is much easier to remember than "314159".
If the human brain is wired to be good at thinking about other humans, if we can therefore co-opt more of our brain matter to work on a problem, why isn't that a good thing? After all, Popper would say that as long as the theories make falsifiable predictions, who cares where they come from? And shouldn't we be as open minded and creative as possible during the hypothesis generation phase of science, as Feyerabend argued in Against Method? If Kepler's mystic beliefs about numbers could lead him to groundbreaking work in astronomy, who are we to deny any scientist any aspect of their full mental powers?
And yet reliance on intuitive models often lead to bias, blind spots, and unwarranted assumptions. We have to remember that these specialized aspects of our brains evolved to solve very specialized problems in a particular environment, and the further we get from those traditional environments the worse they perform. Geometric intuition, developed by apes for a 3D world on the scale of meters was extremely useful aid when bootstrapping mathematics when it first allowed us to grasp plane geometry intuitively, but it became a hindrance as we investigated very small, very large, very fast, or very massive objects. Anthropomorphic models may allow to quickly generate new ideas, but we must always be willing to cast aside such intuitions as our theories develop.
So, I would say that if we currently are at a loss for theories that fit the available data on octopuses, we should place no restrictions on what theories we consider; and if anthropomorphic thinking is one way of generating new hypotheses, than so much the better: toss them on the pile with the others and test them all. But if lessons from the history of science hold true, it is likely that we shall soon have to abandon these early theories (despite the siren call of their intuitive appeal) in favor of more objective, more abstract, and less intuitive concepts that nevertheless explain the facts more thoroughly and more deeply.
I agree, but one step further I don't think we even have a base line definition for what consciousness really is, so how could we start defining what is and what isn't?
I can only see one ultimate conclusion: consciousness is a silly meme and doesn't really matter. (Then, a corollary: personhood is a silly meme and doesn't really matter.) :D
The Supreme Court beat you to it and extended personhood to corporations. No one ever accused a corporation of being conscious.
Personally I think it's a brilliant metaphor. What do we see in an ink blot? What do we see in any symmetries?
They can't read and write but they do react "emotionally"
Reptiles are not social/herding animals
Many handlers report that a hungry snake will be happy to eat anything that looks edible, including you, your kid, your dog, etc.
Humans do have a tendency to anthropomorphize, or attribute human emotions to things that absolutely cannot feel them, including machines, insects, plants, rocks, etc.
Knowing that, I wouldn't trust the assumption that it must feel something. Animals, especially non-mammals, are near-alien in how their behavior may differ from what we're used to. Ignoring the advice of experts on how they actually behave is a good way to get killed.
After all, it's not social, but it might have a use for such a feeling in the wild, to learn about good hunting conditions.
(This is all so much speculation and I have no great hope snakes might feel anything at all.)